Sunday, November 17, 2013

Should I just give up?

Time is ephemeral smoke and unyielding steel at the same time. It is utterly silent, flittering away when we're not looking, then demanding performance without excuses, nonchalantly cruel and precise.

Happy birthday to me

My birthday is today. The fact of it is no surprise, but the blues it brought were unexpected. What's the problem? Good question. Maybe a long overdue blog update is a good way to assess last year's progress.

Work toward Escape 2015 is coming along. During the last 9 months, I all but replaced my regular work income with freelance writing income. Then in the last three weeks or so, the assignments dried up and blew away like yesterday's entertainment section. A lesson learned in putting all the eggs in a single basket.

Thankfully I didn't close down my regular business. People have been knocking down my door for the regular stuff, so a break from freelance writing has given me a chance to catch up.

What about the book?

Earlier this year I thought about taking off during November to finish my book. It is National Novel Writing Month, right? Of course, as November grew closer, the calendar was filled with everything except writing. Time keeps slipping away ... now I'm not even sure if I want to finish the book. That book, anyway.

The question is do I really want to write transient fiction, or do I want to write something with staying power? Check that - who am I kidding. I want to write a bestseller and sell the movie rights.

There's something else to be thankful for - I'm not restricted by lofty ideas of writing the next great American novel. Plus, according to Ernest Hemingway, the first draft of anything is shit. I can take heart.

What about the world?

And we've been busy pursuing progress in and for Haiti. We've made two trips there this year, with more planned for next year. I'm following doors which seem to magically open regarding an entrepreneurial project which will employ many Haitians at a real living wage. There's a lofty idea for ya.

So please forgive me if you've been wondering whether we gave up. We didn't. We won't. In fact, I think it's time to celebrate a birthday. Regrouping can wait until tomorrow.

All my love,
Planner





Saturday, January 5, 2013

Half Way There



Steven Goodwin

Daily life is like a maze with infinite turns and dead ends.  Making a plan and taking the time to review it periodically is like taking a ladder up to the stand on top of the wall.  You can see further, avoid the next dead end, and reorient yourself to move toward the goal, rather than away from it.  Review, plan, get back on course. 

Monthly progress reviews and planning sessions are great if you do them.  I imagine there are people who do monthly reviews outside a work setting, but they are probably either boring or bored.  That’s my excuse for not doing monthly reviews. 

Yet I will agree that yearly reviews and planning sessions are the bare minimum needed to measure progress and make course corrections.  Quarterly is a happy medium. 
One undeniable fact I’ve learned from this project is that I am more likely to reach my goals when I put a plan in writing.  It really is the best way to tackle my stubborn, self-sabotaging other self.

So, where to start?  Here’s the short version:

1.  Where are you now?

2.  Where do you want to be?
3.  How did you get where you are?

4.  How will you get where you’re going?

My answers:
1.  Half-way through implementing the Escape plan.

2.  Free.
3.  Planning, working, course correcting, planning, working, course correcting, planning (you get the picture).

4.  More of number 3, specifically:
            a.  Increase paid writing work.
            b.  Improve my writing.
            c.  Finish the dang book, for crying out loud.
            d.  Build new revenue streams.

Easy as pie, right?
Claire Braithwaite
The truth is, I believe a lot of people would like to make significant life changes, but don’t know where to start.  The thought of making big changes is so overwhelming and full of unanswered questions that we are more likely to stick our heads back in the sand while parts of our souls wither with longing.
But the phrase “comfort zone” is a copout.  It would be more accurate to call it a safety zone.  All too often, we prefer the predictable results of life as we know it in the safety zone, even if the safety zone is a miserable place to be.  Then you look up and ten years have flown by.
No more.    

Start with a simple assessment like the one below.
2012 in review:

·         Secured paid writing contracts to meet half of monthly income requirements,

·         Reduced regular workload involving the stuff that drives me batty,

·         Increased farm revenue,

·         Posted an insufficient number of posts to the Escape.2015 blog, and

·         Almost whipped the tax gorilla.

Then think about things you’d like to do this year which will help you get where you want to be. 

Here’s a peek at my plans for 2013:
·         Upgrade the Escape.2015 blog as follows:

·         Get a new look,

·         Move to Wordpress,

·         Establish a reasonable posting schedule, (and stick to it)

·         Sort through old posts and eliminate the really crappy ones,

·         Clean and tighten our theme,

·         Consider revealing identities,

·         Give away every bit of information learned along the way about planning and effecting an escape;

·         Continue to increase writing work while decreasing other work,

·         Find additional sources of income to be generated remotely or passively,

·         Schedule time every week to work on The Book,

·         Write an article for magazine publication at least once each month,

·         Submit so many articles for publication that it becomes easy to toss or delete the rejections with a roll of the eyes while considering to whom we will resubmit, and

·         Do quarterly reviews.  (Monthly may be better, but quarterly is more realistic for me.)

Once you've looked made your lists, use the information to help answer the four main questions above.  Remember, it’s not a contract or a graded assignment.  It’s a plan.  It’s your plan. You get to change it as much as you want as often as you want, and you can keep it a secret or post it on a billboard in the front yard.

If reading this post made that withered part of your soul start tingling again, to believe on some small level that big changes really are possible, then what are you waiting for?  Planning costs zero dollars, it can be done anywhere, and it is without a doubt the most powerful tool we have for changing the course of our lives. 

Everyone ends up somewhere.  Will you get there on purpose, or will you be a casualty of someone else’s plan?


Arjun Kartha
                

 
 Or
 


Tracy Toh


 
  

I'll take Door Number 2, please.
 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

These Days



sskies
I've been putting off writing this post because I'm having a rather shitty time of it just now.  Maybe it's the monotony of our current existence, the fact that winter is looming on the doorstep and I absolutely hate winter, or that I had another birthday last weekend, or that I feel like the freight train of progress has ground to a screeching halt and I am reduced to dragging it with my teeth BY MYSELF, like that strong man on TV twenty-something years ago, who strongly resembled Mr. Clean, but with bigger muscles and less jewelry.

I guess I thought it would be bad to admit that everything is not just peachy all the time.  Then I figured What the hell?  It's the truth.  Life is like that sometimes.

The question is what will we I do about it?  When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

_____________

On to a brighter subject (because I am determined to focus there for the remainder of this post) I had an opportunity to travel to Haiti this summer.  I saw, heard, and felt many things I expected and some I didn't expect.  The sharp contrast between Jacmel, Haiti and my world shook me to my core. I was and am broken for the people of Haiti.  But, crying over it - or closing my eyes - won't change anything.  I may not be able to do much, but will do what I can.

So, to that end, since September, part of my time has been devoted to raising money for a little mission in Jacmel that houses a sewing center. 

Ekaterina Boym-Medler
Let me back up and say this.  I'm a Fixer, naturally predisposed and professionally trained to look at the big picture, identify problems, consider, strategize, and implement solutions.  I get sick and damned tired of doing it all the time for mewling crybabies, but Haiti was different.  There are real problems in Haiti, and real potential solutions.  Only, I'm not big enough to do it by myself.  Sean Penn, maybe? but not unfamous me.  If I had half a minute, a few resources, and some local government cooperation, we could set them on a new course.  But those things are beyond me for now.

So back to the sewing center.  The average weekly salary in Haiti is just $25.00 US, but unemployment is around 80 percent.  An estimated 1 in 9 people in Haiti is an orphan child, and the orphan crisis is directly related to Haiti's pervasive poverty.  Many of the orphans have at least one parent who is living, but so many of them have been abandoned to charity and child slavery (restaveks) for the sake of a roof over their heads and food to eat. 

The sewing center is helping change that.  The mission provides the facility, electricity, materials, sewing machines, training and most importantly salaries to a handful of ladies who wish to participate.  The ladies are learning a marketable skill and earning a salary while making school uniforms for children in nearby orphanages and free schools.  For $25 a week, these ladies can keep their families together.  I've been there and I've seen it working.

So, between regular work and building my second career (freelance writing, which is going well but the pay sucks), I've been engaged in a friendly competition with my husband to see who can raise the most money to help keep the sewing center going.  It feels good to help make a real difference.  Feel free to contact me if you'd like to join the effort.

Note to self - when having a pity party, it helps to remember that no matter how bad things seem, it could always be worse.

Now, back to the freaking freight train.  Where's my rope?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Where Have You Been?

Alfred Lohmann
I feel like I need to start this post with "Dear Diary".  But I won't.

I admit a large chunk of life passed by from May 2011 to July 2012 -- while I worked too much.  I also admit that it was by choice. In retrospect, the experience served more than one purpose. I count the extra lessons learned as having a far greater value than the money.  I have a greater understanding of the real value of some things, and the lack of value of other things.  My perspective is broader, and fear of the unknown diminished in proportion. 

The stone wall that stood for so long is being carefully dismantled, brick by brick.  The changes in me - progress I think - are becoming harder to hide, and I am less compelled to hide them. 

The process of breaking down the wall has been enlightening, revealing layers and stones long forgotten. There were happy discoveries of long abandoned ambition. Other layers were rotten and should have been scraped out long ago.  (No time like the present.)

Moving into a new phase of life can be messy.  Or not.  Sometimes it's up to you.  Sometimes it isn't.  At the end of the day, our lives are the sum of the choices we make.  The question is not simply where do you want to be - but what choices will you make today that are most likely to foster progress?  There is satisfaction in deliberately reaching beyond yourself, despite fear, and in the face of constant doubt. 

There is more satisfaction in looking back to see you were right more often than wrong. 

So what makes you happy? 

Satisfaction is the root of joy.  Personal satisfaction is achieved only by knowing the deepest heart of the real you, ignoring outside pressures to look and do and be something else.  The shocking truth is that most people have not a clue who they are or what they would choose without someone telling them what they want and what they should be.

Are you satisfied?  Is life working for you?  Or is is time to change your perspective?

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Do You See?


Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski; 12frames.eu
 A writer I admire recently quoted John Ruskin:
"... Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see."
Because I refuse to use the overused R-word, let's just say this quote stuck with me, haunting me, I guess.  It begs the question whether sight is a blessing or a curse.

Today I enjoyed a rare opportunity to eat lunch on the patio of a local restaurant.  The treat was not really the food, but the fact that I was a party of one, the only customer on the patio.  I pretended not to notice the teenager tidying the other tables.  As I relished the solitude, a man in a shiny black and green sports car backed into a nearby parking space. 

He called to the girl cleaning the tables, asking whether Kate was working.  When the girl said no, the man, in his sleeveless t-shirt and flip-flops, was taken aback.

"She said she had to work from twelve to five," he said.

The teenager offered to go inside to check the schedule.  She returned a moment later, cell phone in hand.  The girl called to the man, "She works from five to ten today.  She switched with Heather last night.  She said she forgot to tell you."

"Tell her I'm going to forget to put my flip-flop up her ass."

Still holding the phone to her ear, the teenager said, "She said she had to go to the ER with her cousin last night, that's why."

"Where is she now?"

"She said she's at home."

"Tell her I'll ride up there."

The wide-eyed teenager repeated the information into the cell phone.

----------

It doesn't take a mind reader to know there is domestic violence history (or future) for that couple.  His choice of car or clothing had little to do with the fear that nipped at me.  It had more to do with his words and demeanor, which indicate the man is possessive, obsessive, and dangerous.  Everything about him  reflects the importance he places on presenting himself to the world as a bad-ass.  Someone who has respect confused with fear.

From the parking lot, I suspect he went to the girl's house and berated her for forgetting to tell him her work schedule had changed.  She had made him look stupid.  He then shifted the lecture to accuse her of not telling him on purpose.  What was she trying to hide?  Where had she really been when the teenager called?  He demanded to know where she had been and who she was with.

On the other end of the lecture, the girl wonders how she's going to get out of this mess.  How will she end the relationship?  Working a few hours a day at the deli isn't going to get her very far.  As he accuses her of sneaking around, she says whatever it takes to keep him calm.  There's no point arguing.

There's a chance the relationship is young, and the girl can make a hasty exit.  But I doubt it. Why was the teenager so frightened?  She had darted inside to check the schedule the way a person runs to call 911.

Maybe I presume too much.  Maybe the girl on the phone will find an easy way out.

My solitary lunch was no longer interesting.  All I could do was hope that things turn out okay for her--that today will pass and tomorrow will be better.  My God, what if there are children?  I suddenly felt the need to go home, find my husband, and close my eyes to the rest of the world.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

WInds of Change Are Blowing



Third writing contract is in place.  I'm backing off that other life-sucking contract in two weeks.  I thought I was busy before.  I am learning how much sleep I can get by on.  And I'm looking forward to the shift to more writing and less ... other.

I promise to write a real post soon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Distraction is the Enemy

Photo by Safi

Enough of the glib sunshine-and-rainbows, everything's-peachy, dry toast journaling.  In this post, I'll just lay it out there.

A little more than a year ago, we decided to make some drastic changes.  We wanted out of the tidy prison we'd built around ourselves.  A simple idea, but a monumental task.  Sort of like moving the Great Wall of China to a new location fifty yards away.  Things that take a long time to build can't be moved quickly without destroying the thing in the process.

We needed a plan, a timeline, a goal.  We made them.  We lost track, we regrouped, we made progress.  Lost track again, regrouped.

In the midst of maintaining the everyday duties of a middle class, two-income family with children and growing businesses, staying focused on the plan hasn't been easy.  There are things I would do differently.

I would have made time to write more -- for exercise, for myself, and for sale.  I would have tried harder to overcome the notion that doing so was selfish of me... because when I write it still feels like I'm cheating on my 'real' responsibilities ...  being lazy.  Why that notion is ingrained in my mind, I have no idea.

I would have sought paid writing work sooner.  I only started looking two months ago and have landed two ongoing contracts. (Added a second since my last post.)  Which makes me wish I'd started sooner.  The significance of the simple fact that someone is paying me to write is not lost on me.  I am thankful, encouraged, and scared.  What if I really can't do it?  Worse, what if they think I'm a fraud?  (I am not.)

I admit I would have spent less of the extra money I was working so hard to earn, and applied more to the debt we were trying to pay off in the first place.

Above all, I would have revisited the plan more often to keep the goals at the front of my mind.

Because if executing a plan requires focus, then distraction is the enemy.  Failing to plan is rarely the problem.  The problem is failing to adhere to the plan.  Distraction lulls us, woos us, numbs us to the reality that the clock is ticking all the time.  Distraction is procrastination's excuse, and who can deny that procrastination is rooted in fear?  I don't remember who said it, and I won't stop now to look it up, because doing so would be a classic example of me surrendering to the temptation to follow a distraction, which would lead to further procrastinating about writing this post, which has been brewing long enough.

----------

This edge I'm standing on is not meant to last.  It's as though the human experiment I have self-imposed for the last year has changed me.  Like a hatchling, I can't go back into an egg that doesn't fit anymore, especially one I've worked so hard to break out of.  Yes, at times, I want to pull the shell back around and go back to sleep.  Take down the counter widget from the top of the blog, maybe settle for a pool in the back yard.  But more often, I want to get my feet under me, stretch my new wings, take a look around, see where I am.

Even now, between mad dashes of life (and distraction) that feel as though I'm playing whack-a-mole on a football field, there are glimpses of what can be, what will be.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe hatching is the hardest part, and I think it's almost over.

At the end of today, when I give in to the fact that I must sleep eventually, I will drift off knowing that I made progress.  Even if it was tiny, it is movement in the right direction.  Stone by stone, the wall will be moved.